Well, here we are. Rain's in the forecast, but as it stands, tonight will be the last game that Derek Jeter ever plays in Yankee Stadium. It's such a bizarre feeling to realize that the next time we see the Yankees, the Captain will not be leading them out of the dugout onto the field as he takes his customary place at shortstop. At least in 2013, there was the hope that he would return. Today is it though.
It's a day that sadly just has to happen at this point. Jeter is no longer the player he was two years ago when the Yankees last won the AL East and advanced to the playoffs for the 17th time in his 20-year career. It's all coming to an end.
A franchise record 2,744 games later.
A franchise record 3,461 hits later: 2,592 singles, 543 doubles, 66 triples, and 260 homers.
A franchise record 358 stolen bases later.
An incredible 14 All-Star Games, seven AL pennants, and five World Series titles later.
I could go on. I have before. I did before the season when he announced his retirement and I wrote about growing up watching Jeter. I did midseason when he turned 40 and I wrote about the 40 greatest moments of his career. And finally, I did again recently, when I wrote about how melancholy it was watching Jeter's sluggish departure from the game compared to the still-excelling Mariano Rivera.
At this concluding point though, I can thing of no better way to honor Jeter than to present the 10 images I will always think of when I think of Jeter, one of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes. I'm going to take a page from Greg's playbook and share some music. It's the music that for some reason my brain will always associate with Jeter's career, probably because I love the song so damn much and it became popular around the time Jeter was being awesome in 2009 on the way to his last World Series ring.
Mood Music: Sweet Disposition - The Temper Trap
1) Hello, world.
As a top prospect, Jeter made some cameo appearances on the 1995 Yankees, but '96 was his true introduction to the baseball world. The rookie was named the team's Opening Day shortstop, and some were uneasy about an unproven player taking the reins. In his first game of the season though, against the defending AL champions no less, Jeter established that he belonged. It was the start of a unforgettable season in which he won Rookie of the Year and the Yankees returned to glory with their first World Series title in 18 years.
2) The perfect teammate
From the very beginning, it was a very odd day when Jeter wasn't the first teammate out of the dugout to congratulate someone on a home run or something of that nature. He was a leader in the clubhouse even before becoming captain, always welcoming new players young and old to the team with great enthusiasm. This GIF was from 2000, and plenty of others could have been used with similar enthusiasm for his teammates, like this one from 2009 or this hilarious one with Ichiro Suzuki from this year. Bottom line: his teammates loved him, and I'm sure he takes great pride in that.
3) The jump throw
Yeah, yeah, it's overrated and as Ben Lindbergh pointed out last year, his airtime might have lost precious seconds on plays like these to throw out the runner. Regardless, it's still fun to watch and quintessentially Jeter.
That opposite-field swing was a thing of beauty. Grantland's Jonah Keri noted yesterday that Jeter's 845 opposite-field hits since 1996 are the most in baseball by over 200 hits. It's not even close. So many of those 2,592 singles went just like the one above.
5) Jeter & Zim
Jeter never seemed to have a bad relationship with any coach or manager, and while he shared a close bond with both his longtime skipper Joe Torre and team owner George Steinbrenner, I always found his relationship with the elderly but fiery Don Zimmer the most amusing. Throughout Zim's eight-year tenure as bench coach, Jeter would rub his head for good luck. The two had a wonderful friendship that bridged generation, and in interviews following Zim's unfortunate passing this year, it was evident that it was a blow to Jeter to lose him. Miss you, Zim.
6) The Flip & The Dive
I'm cheating by including two here. Whateva, I do what I want.
Criticism's of Jeter's range over the years has been justified. Criticism of his baseball acumen has not been as frequent, and there's a good reason. Both of these unbelievable plays came in tight situations, and while the Dive required straight guts, the Flip play required remarkable ingenuity. No one who watched those plays will ever forget them.
7) Mr. November
The most famous hit of his career in one of the most dramatic World Series of all-time. Most of those 260 career homers were line drive to the short porch in right field, and this was no different.
8) Salute to the fans
The moment was rare when there was a bad fan story about Jeter. I've had friends who met him and even though the most famous athlete in New York knew nothing about them, he was very easygoing and nothing but cordial. He was also quick to say kind things about the fans whenever prompted, like on that fateful night in 2008 when the old Yankee Stadium closed its doors.
Greg said this well already, but man, do I miss that place.
Such a special moment, from Jeter stunning the crowd by reaching 3,000 hits with just his third homer of the season to the embrace of his close friend Jorge Posada with a smile at home plate and the eventual 5-for-5 day on that memorable summer afternoon. I was lucky enough to be there, and it easily the most exciting day I've ever had at a ballpark.
10) The champ
Not a bad career at all to have enough World Series to cover a hand. Given how stoic Jeter often was on the field, it made his rare exultations all the better. Also a good one: his final celebration of a clinch, in the 2012 ALDS.
We're going to miss you, Jeter. Thanks for the countless memories that will last a lifetime.